“Since its inception, the Parish is envisioned as a response to a precise pastoral need, namely that of bringing the Gospel to the People through the proclamation of the faith and the celebration of the Sacraments,” the document says.
To meet its mission, “a renewed vitality is required that favours the rediscovery of the vocation of the baptised as a disciple of Jesus Christ and a missionary of the Gospel.” Especially in parts of the world where many people do not know or practice the faith, the document encourages parishes to discern how to think of themselves as missionary communities, and how to focus on proclaiming the Gospel to all who will hear.
The Eucharist and the poor should be central to parish life.
“The celebration of the Eucharistic mystery is ‘the source and summit of the whole Christian life’ and accordingly, the essential moment for building up the Parish community,” the guidelines instruct.
The Mass should be the center of parish life, the document says, and the place from which the parish receives its mission. In the Mass, the parish “welcomes the living presence of the Crucified and Risen Lord, receiving the announcement of the entire mystery of salvation.”
And, the document says, the poor should be invited to the heart of parish life.
“A ‘sanctuary’ open to all, the Parish, called to reach out to everyone, without exception, should remember that the poor and excluded must always have a privileged place in the heart of the Church,” the document says.
“The Parish community evangelizes and is evangelized by the poor, discovering anew the call to preach the Word in all settings, whilst recalling the ‘supreme law’ of charity, by which we shall all be judged.”
Territoriality matters, but can’t be a limit.
Most parishes are defined by territory. With few exceptions, a parish is, properly speaking, the communion of the baptized within the limits of a certain territory, which is defined by the bishop. In the West, that concept has mostly been forgotten, Catholics tend to go to Mass at the parish where they feel most welcomed or fed, and despite encouragement from some bishops, many Sunday Massgoers don’t know about parish boundaries.
The Congregation for Clergy’s guidelines recognize that reality.”Increased mobility and the digital culture have expanded the confines of existence,” the guidelines state, “people are less associated today with a definite and immutable geographical context, and “digital culture has inevitably altered the concept of space, together with people’s language and behaviour, especially in younger generations.”
But the document insists that territoriality matters. That “interpersonal relationships risk being dissolved into a virtual world without any commitment or responsibility towards one’s neighbor.”
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The parish is not a self-selected or self-defined community, but a set of people with obligations to each other, and the guidelines warn against losing that sense.
Because the parish is intended to encourage in neighbors a sense of Christian responsibility for one another, the document is clear that parishes building plans for evangelization and missionary work must take into account “those who actually live within the territory. Every plan must be situated within the lived experience of a community and implanted in it without causing harm, with a necessary phase of prior consultation, and of progressive implementation and verification.”
Still, the guidelines say, a parish’s mission doesn’t end at its territorial boundaries. In light of a changing world, “any pastoral action that is limited to the territory of the Parish is outdated.”
In short, the guidelines urge Catholics to think of their parishes as a community, with obligations of neighbors to one another, who share a mission to proclaim the Gospel, together, beyond the limits of their own community.
Structures are for mission, but bureaucracy kills.
The guidelines emphasize that while the parish needs policies, programs, and structures to fulfill its mission, it must “avoid the risk of falling into an excessive and bureaucratic organisation of events and an offering of services that do not express the dynamic of evangelization.”